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Facebook Donates Recovered Legal Funds to University

The University of Alabama’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research (CIA|JFR) has received $250,000 from the world’s largest social network, thanks in part to their help in taking down the Koobface gang. The money comes from legal winnings earned by Facebook, after they started taking spammers and scammers to court.

Koobface (Facebook backwards) is a family of malware that was discovered in 2008. While Facebook – and the users who hold accounts – were the primary target, other social media destinations were also included in the malware’s list of targets. Koobface would best be described as a worm, but it used some clever non-worm-like tricks to spread. For example, in 2009, a variant of Koobface behaved like a normal Internet user, creating Facebook accounts in order to further its infection base.

According to Trend Micro, the component ran background instances of Internet Explorer, to create Facebook accounts, and used GMail to complete the registration process. Once the account was validated, Koobface used it to join groups and add friends.  

Earlier this year, Sophos scooped Facebook’s investigation into Koobface, by publishing research that exposed the people behind the social botnet, as well as their command and control network. In less than 24-hours after Sophos’ report, Koobface was gone.  

Shortly before the Sophos made their research public (17 Jan 2011), Facebook posted an update on the status of their investigation into Koobface on their security blog. In it, the social giant announced that it had been 9 months since a major Koobface outbreak, and they thanked the CIA|JFR for their help. Since that time, Facebook has sued spammers and scammers in an ongoing legal war against those who prey on the company’s users.

It was from that pool of legal earnings that the CIA|JFR received its $250,000 donation.

“As a result of numerous collaborations over the years, Facebook recognizes the center as both a partner in fighting Internet abuse, and as a critical player in developing future experts who will become dedicated cybersecurity professionals,” says Joe Sullivan, chief security officer at Facebook.

“The center has earned this gift for their successes in fighting cybercrime and because of the need for formal cybersecurity education to better secure everyone’s data across the world,” Sullivan said.

The school will use the money to expand the CIA|JFR and create a ‘Facebook Suite’ that will serve as a “place where cybervisionaries from around the world will gather to share ideas, discoveries and solutions,” the school said.

The new CIA|JFR headquarters will be located on top of the University Boulevard Office Building on the university’s campus. The Facebook Suite is scheduled to open and make its debut at the second annual Cyber Summit on Feb. 12, 2013.

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.